Ken Stabler was just different. He was lefty, he was elusive, he was dead accurate. Stabler was also a part of a heated rivalry between the Steelers and the Raiders in the 1970s.
The Raiders confirmed on Thursday that the one-time NFL MVP lost his battle with cancer on Wednesday. Stabler is an important figure in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His debut was in a 1972 playoff game against them.
After replacing the starting quarterback partway through the game, Stabler appeared to bring the Raiders back for the win before Franco Harris’s “Immaculate Reception” brought the Steelers back from the brink.
Stabler got revenge on the Steelers in the 1973 divisional playoffs, but the win was largely thanks to a defense that picked off the Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw three times. While Stabler didn’t have a huge impact on the stat sheet, he played mistake free football.
He would meet the Steelers again in the 1974 AFC Championship, a game that propelled the Steelers to a win in Super Bowl IX.
The rivalry started to become one-sided as the two teams met again in the 1975 AFC Championship game. By now, the teams had played each other five times in three seasons. In a frigid game in which some Raiders receivers had a tough time hanging on to Stabler’s passes, the Steelers triumphed once again. The Black and Gold went on to win Super Bowl X.
In the 1976 AFC Championship game, things took a turn. Stabler led the Raiders to a win over the rival Steelers and then to a win in Super Bowl XI after a regular season in which he was the league’s top-rated passer.
The Raiders and the NFL lost a legend this week, and the Steelers lost a great rival. While today’s games against the Ravens are always viewed with deserved intensity, it is unlikely that any rivalry will match the intensity of the Raiders and the Steelers in the 1970s. The amount of violence that was exhibited in those games simply isn’t allowed in today’s game.
Ken Stabler was a huge part of the Steelers’ story. He was an all time great, and a worthy opponent.
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